‘For Our Children’ explores police killings of Black men

By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Filmmaker Debora Souza Silva has produced a new documentary entitled “For Our Children” that depicts a group of African-American mothers whose sons were victims of police brutality and how they mobilized to demand justice and accountability from law enforcement and call for political reform.

The documentary, which was filmed primarily in Oakland and Troy, Alabama, focuses on Rev. Wanda Johnson, whose son, Oscar Grant, was shot and killed at the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit station in 2009 by former Oakland BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.

Also featured is Angela Williams from Troy, Alabama whose son, Ulysses Wilkerson, was brutally beaten by police officers in December 2017 before being charged with capital murder. 

The film focuses on Rev. Johnson and Williams who joined forces with a team of lawyers to understand what really led to the altercation between police officers and their sons as they worked to obtain justice for the young man.

In an effort to address police brutality, Johnson founded the Oscar Grant Foundation with the purpose of helping support mothers whose children have been brutalized by police as they grapple through their grief. 

“California already requires all law enforcement agencies to do some form of implicit bias training with their officers, but we think that training is not enough.” Johnson said in a statement. 

“Through our Law Enforcement Equity Training program, we aim to work with police departments so that more officers are equipped with skills that can help them defuse conflicts, identify mental illness and understand nonverbal communication. We want to see better outcomes when they’re dealing with people of color from our community.

“Police officers enjoy legal protections that make it hard to challenge bad police behavior,” stated Johnson. “So we will continue to do our part to make sure all police departments are held accountable for their actions so that more trust can be built between law enforcement and our communities.”

The documentary features appearances by other Black mothers who have lost their sons to violence, including Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Sandra Bland.

At one of the gatherings, mothers of those killed by police are shown eating, praying and grieving together as they take time to repeat the names of their slain loved ones. 

Despite the loss of their sons, there is a sense of widespread solidarity and growing activism among the mothers who declare they won’t give up the fight to call attention to police brutality as they demand police reform.

“This is a sorority that we didn’t plan for and we are here to get power and to inspire and uplift each other,” said one mother in the film.

“I’m here because enough is enough.  How many more have to die?” asked another.

“This is a call to action for all Black mothers to come together.  We laugh, we cry and we’re going to continue to fight,” another mother declared.

Also featured in the documentary are civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Alicia Garza.

Silva is hoping that the film will call attention to ongoing police brutality that persists across the country and reignite ways to bring about reform.

“Once I became a mother I just think that this film took a new turn because then I understood how precious one’s child is,” Souza said.

“As Angela explained in the film, Ulysses was not killed physically but mentally and emotionally. We know that police brutality does not only happen just through killings. It’s the daily interactions that the police have with us.

“One of the things that I found when covering Angela’s story was that we will only pay attention to the case if the victim dies, and that’s too late. It just made me think about how many victims there are out there,” she added.

“For Our Children” has been acquired by filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s Array Releasing. It made its debut at the San Francisco International Film Festival in 2022 and is currently being shown on Netflix.

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at metropressnews@gmail.com.

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